Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by Dafydd, Jul 4, 2019.
Ahh, I assumed the wrong bit of sea then. Still a great photo.
It's been a long time since I was on here but I need some further help.
I've revisited the Coroner's inquiry about the accidental death of the three Bangor boys who were tampering with a mortar they'd found in Aber Training area in 1945 and one or two issues I'd like to put to you from Maj Willding-Jones's testimony for your thoughts.
The newspaper reported him as saying that '1300 bombs' (mortars) were fired in Aber every month. Actually, he said 'thousands' in written testimony. Does 1300 seem a lot to you? If they trained once-weekly, then that's 325 to carry up there and fire; hardly battlefield conditions?
How would a mortar training session be organised; how many soldiers would have been involved?
Thank you in advance.
Good to see you are continuing your interest in the tragic incident at Bangor.
Military training is not my area of expertise, but did find on the forum a copy of the British Army 1943 manual on the ML 3 inch mortar, the British army's standard mortar of the time. It was owned at some point by Officer Cadet A W Bailey of the OCTU at Trentham Park, Staffs, so maybe is the same book as used by cadets from 164 OCTU at Barmouth who probably used the range at Aber during a week long courses at the Battle School at Llanberis.
Infantry Training Part IV, Mortar Platoon - Feb 1943 edition
This book states that once the mortar is ranged rate of fire varies from rapid (20 per minute) to slow (6-7 per minute). As well as the OCTU's other units used the battle school, such as commandos. This is only going to be an estimate, but its possible as you say that the range was maybe only used once a week on average, at 20 per minute its possible that 325 could be fired at each visit. If the range was used more often then it comes down to maybe 200 or so each visit.
As to how they got the mortars and bombs up to the range, I know its just above the Aber Falls, a well known tourist attraction, usualy now reached by foot, but modern maps also show a track most of the way up the side of the valley on the western side of the falls. The mortar its self was split into 3 infantryman's loads, but by using the track it could have been carried by Universal or "Bren" Carrier a lot of the way, this being the armies preferred method of taking the 3 inch mortar into battle. I assume for a training exercise carriers could also have been used to take the bombs, and remove the duds. Not sure how many were in a class at the range, but if its 20-30 & the pics in this link show cases of three bombs, then is it possible that each man carrying three bombs from the top of the track to the range could get 200 or so to the range in relays.
ML 3-inch mortar - Wikipedia
This is all very "back of an envelope" calculations, and made more possible if they could get carriers as close as poss to the range.
It's a great pleasure to hear from you again and many thanks for the link and information you give.
I did a calculation of the number of mortar rounds needed by each platoon from the 3" Mortar Infantry Training Pamphlet of 1943 and see that each of the 6 mortar detachments had 66 rounds (396 total) and with 4 lorries of reserve totaling 530 rounds; a grand total of 926. This is close to the "thousands" Maj Willding-Jones testified at the Coroner's Inquiry. With a firing rate of between 20 and 6 or 7 per minute, a detachment certainly would exhaust 66 rounds in a day's training.
However, I have a nagging question; the boys found only 2" mortars (smoke and HE) and no mention was made at all about 3" mortars being found. Do you think they trained exclusively on the former? I gather that the 2" was lighter to carry and I personally think the emphasis on platoon training in Aber was on the 2" where mobility was more important rather than what was involved in the 3" deployment? I need to be more certain what field skills were taught at Aber. I agree with you that access up there was by foot and carriers took the rounds. A 2" is also easier to carry but 3 men seems about right to a detachment.
I'll reply to the person who put the 3" training manual up and ask if he knows if there's a 2" training equivalent.
Thank you again for your invaluable help; I do appreciate it immensely.
Rate of fire quoted here for the 2 inch mortar as 8 per minute, just a two man team & used because it was more portable. An upgrade on the WW1 use of the rifle grenade.
Two-inch mortar - Wikipedia
Even this photo from the above wiki link of Belgian soldiers is taken in Wales !
Hope you eventually find exactly how the battle school used the Aber Range.
Thanks so much for your continuing help. I think the range in Aber was for a lightly armed, mobile two-man detachment. If we assume the rapid rate of fire was 8 per minute and that they had 10 detachments there then it would take them 16.25 minutes to fire off 1300 rounds. This is a theorized calculation but it looks feasible that 1300 could be fired each month. It would take double that time (32.5 mins) to fire off 1300 if the rate of fire was 4 per minute. All depended on the number of rounds carried up there for each training session.
I still don't know yet the number of cadets involved in the training in Aber. I'm going through the training manuals and the only one with specific numbers is the 3" mortar training which lists 45 troops in 6 detachments of 5 each, 66 rounds with a lorry then there's the Platoon Commander's lorry and a further 4 support lorries for reinforcements/supplies etc. I fear this is too much for Aber terrain and there was no mention of 3" mortars at all.
Thank you again for your marvelous help.
As you say easy to see with the 2 inch mortar how that many could be fired in a month even if only used weekly/fortnightly.
In my really quick look at the 3 inch mortar manual it seemed that it was for how a mortar platoon worked, and the OCTU's at Aber, even wth the 2 inch mortar would have maybe been in training groups, rather that mortar platoon structure.
I agree that the training in the Aber range was not in a mortar platoon structure. By necessity of training and supervision the fire rate was probably about 1 to 2 per minute or less as the goal was accuracy. A supervising officer had to see that correct fire procedure was followed: safety cap and pin removed and that any blind was noted. If one did occur, practice was halted and its position noted and reported. Bombs didn't grow on trees and they had to be carried up there; a pack of 6 HE mortars I think weighed 18lbs. I do think the figure of 1300 was around the right number used in a month.
The other query was the confusion over the classification of the range. This is crucial to whether the blind was located and destroyed or not. On the one hand the Small Arms Training Vol V - Layout, Safety & Equipment 1945 stated that 'Mortar positions should never be within 100 yds of any place where the public had access and from where they cannot be excluded'. Aber was open to the public; access was via a 'broken down wall' (boys' testimony). Then on the other hand it stated that all 2"HE mortar ranges had to be classified as a 'closed target area' - 'must be totally enclosed by a substantial [barbed wire] fence and with conspicuous danger notices at the boundaries'. Crucially the manual stated that in a 'closed target range' 'no action is necessary regarding the destruction of blinds' .
The Aber range was 'open' as the bombs were correctly located and destroyed; but HE mortars had to be used in 'closed' ranges. Explain this little conundrum?
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